April 1986 was a very strange time indeed.
America launched a military strike on the Libyan capital Tripoli in response, it claimed, to attacks on American soldiers in Germany orchestrated by Col. Gadaffi. For our generation, this was the first time we had seen one of the Super Powers flex it's muscle and lash out in anger. It became a very worrying time. The night before the attacks, Gadaffi announced that, if America launched attacks on Libya, he would fight back "even if it led to World War Three!" There...somebody actually said it on a news bulletin...World War Three.
Almost immediately the Russians spoke out against the attack, as did every Arab leader....the sabre rattling was intense.
I know this is going to sound mad, and a tad insensitive, but when, 14 days later, the main reactor at Chernobyl went into meltdown, it was almost a blessing in disguise as it took the heat off the antagonistic rhetoric that was filling the air. But of course, this also exacerbated the apocalyptic feeling that was surrounding us all.
The events of that fortnight cast a shadow over the whole year, especially in entertainment; old bores like Status Quo and Genesis released the singles 'In The Army Now' and 'Land Of Confusion' respectively, Mick Hucknall of Simply Red announced that "when the bombs start dropping, people should be dancing to our music"(yeah, right!!), Mark King of Level 42 said in a Smash Hits interview that we had better all start enjoying ourselves now as the end was nigh. Alternative pop stars also had a grim view of things; Killing Joke released the single 'Adorations' saying we should just accept and enjoy the forthcoming holocaust, New Model Army released '51st State' in which they lambasted Thatcher's government for assisting America in it's attacks on Libya. This sentiment was shared by Matt Johnston of The The whose 'Heartland' single and album track 'Sweet Bird Of Truth' were about as dark as it could get.
Yeah.... it was a weird and worrying time indeed, but it was during this week in 1986 that I bought one of my favourite records of all time....
The Saturday after the attacks on Libya, my friend Gary and I went to Glasgow to buy records. We had planned this long before the attacks because we didn't often get Saturdays where we were both off. It seemed almost churlish to be buying records and enjoying one's self at this time, especially as there was that strange feeling that we were now living on borrowed time. We both were planning on getting the BMX Bandits debut single 'Sad/E102' and I was hoping to get hold of another debut single, a single by a band called Raymonde which was also entitled 'Raymonde'.
So who were Raymonde then.....
Raymonde were a band founded by a young gentleman called James Maker and it was because of him that I wanted to get the single. Why? Because James Maker was the official 5th member of The Smiths! He had been in the band in pretty much the same role that Bez has in the Happy Mondays....he provided backing vocals, danced and played maracas. In this picture, the earliest that exists of The Smiths, he is on the far left of the picture.
He was in the band because he was a close friend of Morrissey, but this didn't stop Morrissey removing him from the band after a few shows when someone pointed out to Morrissey that "they're looking at him and not you!".
And so James founded Raymonde and they released their eponymous debut record in April 1986....
And what a fine record it is indeed! Musically it's not that dissimilar to The Smiths, although a little chunkier and little crunchier and thundering along at a fine old clatter. And then in swoops the vocal, again using Morrissey as a blueprint but far more histrionic, overwrought and even hysterical, reaching fever pitch on the line "Can you live without me?". It's a corking performance and, like 'This Charming Man', time has never diminished the thrill I get while listening to it.
On the other side of the 12" single there is a cover of 'These Boots Are Made For Walking' which I've decided not to write about as it's a little pedestrian(no pun intended!), but then comes another remarkable song, a fine Gothic(in it's proper context) slab of melodramatic balladry called 'Children Of The Gospel Song'. It's the kind of song that Marc Almond produced in his Marc & The Mambas phase, and sounds like a massive leap forward on from the A side; like going from 'Hand In Glove' to 'The Queen Is Dead' in the simple flip of a record. And in the vocal, James delivers one of my favourite performances of all time, leaping from octave to octave and really putting a full throated performance in.
As with many of the bands and artists I've covered in this blog, listening again to these two songs makes me wonder how they never became as big or even bigger than many of their contemporaries. Even a lot of Smiths fans that I know appear not to have heard of them or of these songs.
Raymonde didn't release an awful lot of records and split within a year or so.
The next time I saw James Maker was on dreadful early 90s show The Word where he was promoting a new full-on Gay Heavy Metal band he had formed called RPLA!!
But back in April 1986, as I sat in my room wondering when the bombs were going to drop, I played these two songs over and over, and even now almost a quarter of a century on, I can still feel, touch and taste that sense of dread that cloaked the land in that most worrying of times.
It's funny how music can do that.....especially brilliant music!!